Lens Inside a Refugee Camp: Glimpse 9

Last night at the refugee camp, a group of us were in the volunteer hut sitting in a circle of chairs while huddled around the heater trying to keep warm. The group included myself and another volunteer who is a kindhearted, gentle soul named Daniel. In addition to being an amazing human being, Daniel is a Farsi translator. Also in the group was a young female doctor from Holland named Anne, a male Iranian refugee named Shahrouz, and a male Afghani refugee name Faridoon.

The topic of religion came up. In the United States, often times when religion emerges in a conversation, it is a cesspool of hypocrisy and intolerance. Many on the religious right scream about and point to freedom of religion as they express outrage over removing the word “God” from the pledge of allegiance and from government buildings. Yet these same people would have had an aneurism if anyone suggested the word “Allah” be included in the same context. Additionally, they seem to experience immediate amnesia about their vocal support of freedom of religion when it comes to Islam. In their eyes, it’s perfectly OK to shove their religion down your throat but outrageously unacceptable for a Muslim to simply want to practice their religion privately. I also find it a disgrace to true Christians everywhere that it’s a large group of Evangelical Christians who have elevated Donald Trump to being the leading candidate in the Republican primaries. You didn’t need to have studied theology to know that nothing Donald Trump says mirrors what was in Jesus Christ’s heart. Jesus would not have slammed the door on refugees, called Mexicans rapists, bullied fellow candidates, flamed racist rhetoric, and referred to some women as being fat and ugly. As Pope Francis recently said, Christ would have built bridges not walls.

Daniel, Anne and I are agnostics who respect all religions. Faridoon is a Muslim. Shahrouz was raised a Muslim yet converted to Christianity, something almost unheard of in Iran and in countries with large Muslim populations.

Shahrouz’s story was so touching. Even though his communication was slowed since Daniel needed to translate his words, Shahrouz’s deep Christian faith was palpable through his tone and in his eyes. He said that he studied the Bible and found an undeniable truth in it, so he felt an overwhelming calling to convert to Christianity. I so admire his courage to do so in a family and in a country where Islam shines so brightly.

Here in the refugee camp, five people who couldn’t have come from more diverse backgrounds, discussed religion under an umbrella of respect. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t disagreement regarding different interpretations of doctrine. Passionate exchanges definitely occurred, particularly around how the Bible and the Quran view women, but respect and kindness were maintained throughout the conversation and as such, an enlightening dialogue was cultivated.

Before the evening ended last night, I connected with Shahrouz on Facebook. Faridoon and I had become friends on my first day at the camp and were already friends on Facebook. When we first met I was telling a story to Faridoon and mentioned “my wife.” His eyes nearly popped out of his head and his expression was absolutely adorable. He was dumbfounded and asked how it was possible for me to have a wife. Never once did Faridoon judge me as he absorbed my story and tried to process it all. Last evening before we left, I asked Faridoon to communicate to Shahrouz that I was gay so he wouldn’t be taken by surprise when he realized it through Facebook. I was unsure how Shahrouz would react given he was previously a Muslim and now a Christian. As Faridoom communicated in Farsi, Shahrouz’s face lit up and he smiled broadly. He said in broken English, “I loves all les, gays and trans.” Hearing this filled my heart with love and made me smile. In spite of the fact that I am agnostic, I believe it would have made Christ smile too.

On my right bicep I have a tattoo of a Dalai Lama quote that says “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” Last night, five truly diverse people from various religious and cultural backgrounds used their endless reservoir of kindness to create an environment of respect and acceptance. Imagine the peace we could create in the world if others followed our lead.

Please pray for the refugees. #BeKind